FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 8, 2020 (Milton / Anishinabewaki, Attiwonderonk and Haudenosaunee Territories) - This past Monday, prisoners began a hunger strike at the Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, Ontario in response to ongoing human rights abuses and poor living conditions at the jail. Prisoners are demanding an end to frequent lockdowns, along with access to adequate food, clean clothes, air ventilation, cleaning supplies, canteen access and additional canteen options, and a greater number of phones to relieve tensions and increase access to communication.
An individual incarcerated at Maplehurst who wished to remain anonymous, explained their reasons for striking in a statement:
“We the prisoners of Maplehurst CC are legally innocent, yet we have been constantly locked down for 6 days, which started last week on Monday, and recommenced Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and again today [Tuesday]. This is unacceptable and unjust. There is a heat wave going on and believe us, it is hotter in the cells. Prisoners will remain in a peaceful protest until our issues are addressed by Ministry officials. Currently we are subject to arbitrary lockdowns, inadequate food portions, dirty clothes, poor ventilation, no cleaning supplies, an inadequate number of phones, and outdated canteen options. We are currently refusing meals and conducting peaceful protests, and will remain on this hunger strike until we see results."
The hunger strike at the Milton jail is taking place in the wake of similar actions initiated by prisoners at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre and the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay this past month in response to poor conditions of confinement that have further deteriorated as a result of pandemic measures put in place by the Ministry of the Solicitor General in the name of public health. Organizations including the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project (TPRP), the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC), and the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP), are supporting hunger strikers’ reasonable demands as part of broader prisoner solidarity and abolition work. Advocacy groups have been fighting for months to ensure that (a) prisoners receive full access to time out of their cell, yard, showers, visitation, programming, health and mental health care, free phone calls, sanitation and personal protection supplies, and other basic necessities, while also (b) demanding additional measures to divert and decarcerate people from custody during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
"It is distressing that the prisoners at Maplehurst have to resort to depriving themselves of food in order for their voices to be heard,” said Nana Yanful, Staff Lawyer & Legal Team Lead at the Black Legal Action Centre. “The staggering numbers of Black people in correctional institutions and other places of detention is rooted in this country’s history of colonialism, enslavement and segregation. All governments have clear legal obligations to ensure that those who remain incarcerated and are under the authority of federal, provincial and territorial governments are properly cared for and supported, always, but especially so during this pandemic. Now is the time to come together to support those who are incarcerated and demand that their human rights be respected, and that action be taken immediately to end these injustices."
“This hunger strike shows the level of desperation these guys are at to receive access to their basic human rights,” said the wife of one of the prisoners on hunger strike, “Phone access is essential to incarcerated people. If it is a good week, my husband will get 10-20 minutes a day to speak on the phone, which is uncommon. Some prisoners on certain ranges do not get to use the phone at all. Most weeks, they are on lockdown at least 3 days per week without access to phone or shower time. This negatively impacts their ability to gain knowledge about developments in their cases and keep a healthy relationship with their families and communities at a time when that support is needed the most.”
Rajean Hoilett of the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project notes: “This hunger strike builds on a long history of incarcerated people putting their bodies on the line to demand basic human rights. Any small concessions that the jails make as a result of these actions, need to be followed by a complete transformation of our communities to ensure that everyone has access to safe housing, food, water, and education. Prisons are not keeping our communities safe, rather, they are putting us in harm's way.”
Dr. Justin Piché, a Criminology professor at the University of Ottawa and CPEP member, underscores the importance of supporting prisoners at this critical time: “People are in the streets fighting against anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism. At a time when thousands are calling for the defunding of the police, this government thinks it is appropriate to deepen state repression by making conditions of confinement more draconian and investing $500 million over the next five years to hire more jail staff and build new infrastructure to imprison people. People behind and beyond the walls need to take a stand, and force the province to build communities, not bankroll its capacity to keep more of us in cuffs and cages.”
Organizations are urging community members to put pressure on the Milton jail’s administration and the provincial government by contacting Maplehurst’s Superintendent Doug Barker by phone at 905-876-7345 or by email at email@example.com and sending a Tweet to the Solicitor General @SylviaJonesMPP in support of the reasonable demands made by the hunger strikers.
Toronto Prisoners' Rights Project
Rajean Hoilett, firstname.lastname@example.org / (289) 923-3534
Alannah Fricker, email@example.com / (647) 502-6481
Black Legal Action Centre
Nana Yanful, firstname.lastname@example.org / (416) 597-5831
Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
Souheil Benslimane, email@example.com / (819) 592-6469
Justin Piché, firstname.lastname@example.org / (613) 793-1093